Breath, Pulse and Measure in 20th Century American Poetry (Public lecture, 15th November)


Charles Olson

Charles Olson

The Arts of Breath public lecture series launches with Professor David Fuller exploring the significance of breath to the Black Mountain Poets. Everyone is welcome to this free talk on 15th November, 18:15, in Durham University Elvet Riverside 142.

In his manifesto ‘Projective Verse’ (1950) Charles Olson proposed a new view of poetic structure based on the breath. Olson’s polemic acted as a focus for a group of American poets loosely attached to Black Mountain College, which was associated with experimentation in the arts more generally, and became a central document for much later 20th Century American poetry. Olson’s ideas were taken up, developed and modified by established poets, including William Carlos Williams, and by younger writers with whom both Olson and Williams entered into dialogue, including Robert Creeley and Denise Levertov.

This lecture will examine Olson’s breath-related theories of poetic structure and backgrounds to his ideas in earlier American writing. It will consider how poems related to his ideas were presented on the page; using the considerable archive of their extant audio and video recordings, how breath-based theories about structure can be heard in the poems as these were performed by the poets themselves; how ears acculturated to the meters of European poetry can learn to hear and perform for themselves the measures of poetry based in American demotic; and whether a poem is a poem until the reader has learned how to hear its form.

Contact sarah.mclusky@durham.ac.uk for more information, or visit the event on Facebook. The Arts of Breath lecture series, organised by the Life of Breath project, continues until 14th March.

The Arts of Breath public lecture series poster

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